Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Second class post… Penny Gold (1973)

Directed by the great cinematographer Jack Cardiff who worked with Powell and Pressburger on The Red Shoes, Black Narcisus and many more, Penny Gold has some interesting angles, great views of Windsor and Francesca Annis but, in the version I watched, not the marvellous, deep colours of his best work.

It has some pretty decent acting and Miss Annis is an absolute thing of wonder, with controlled expression across a face that could launch a thousand scripts… backed up by the care-worn febrility of James Booth and a good supporting cast; Una Stubbs, Nicky Henson, Joss Ackland.  It’s a little tame and feels like a TV pilot for Booth and Henson cop double act, but still highly watchable all the same…

It begins like a Berkshire Giallo with a young woman emerging naked from the shower in a plush flat full of the trappings of cool post-sixties style. Huge photographic posters of a glamourous model adorn the walls and the angle suggests we’re not the only ones looking into the vulnerable intimacy of the apartment. Then, from out of the dark, a figure with a knife, with hat, sunglasses and long raincoat, slashes into the helpless young woman, mutilating her lifeless form…

The police are called, a proto Sweeney/Morse combination of seasoned, romantic under-achiever, Inspector Matthews (James Booth) and his youthful detective sergeant Rogers (Nicky Henson). They interview the surviving sister, Delphi (Annis), twin sister of the deceased, Diane (also Annis, and shown in flashback) along with the young American woman who lived with her and the wild child’s associates.

Sisters, sisters... Francesca Annis, a dummy and Francesca Annis
There follows the tale of two wildly different sisters, one drawn to the wild side and the other involved in her uncle’s philately business where an ultra rare stamp called the Penny Gold might well have provided the motive for the murder. Matthews naturally suspects Delphi but quite quickly falls for her gamine charms – a not entirely convincing liaison. He spends a lot of time at Rogers’ gaff chewing over the evidence and being fed tea and biscuits by the always delightful Una Stubbs who plays Anna, the unlikely girlfriend of Mr Henson.

There are lots of flashbacks as we learn more about the poisonous relationship between the sisters – a chance for Annis to show her range, albeit in fairly two-dimensional ways. More deaths follow suggesting the killer still has unfinished business. There’s trip to the suppose owner of a Penny Gold,  Miss Hartridge (Penelope Keith) who discovers her Gold gone… somethings afoot and it’s moderately complicated but not entirely suspenseful in spite of a dramatic closing sequence with a Giallo-esque twist.

James Booth casts an eye...
Dusty Verdict: As the Time Out reviewer noted at the time: the film has a "…a brilliant opening sequence, otherwise this flat-footed British thriller is hampered by something like the world's worst script, including flashbacks no one would ever conceivably flash back to, and by a cumbersome storyline about big league stamp trading."

It’s all a bit pedestrian although there’s an uneasy feeling about just like the Giallo that, presumably influenced Cardiff. Things don’t really move quickly enough and the young American woman is a suspicious lose end from the start. That’s not to say that the scenery and the numerous guest-starring, house-hold names aren’t amusing backdrops but it’s a little predictable.

Also starring Windsor
This being a Jack Cardiff film, the camerawork is interesting although this is not the best of copies. Never-the-less, Windsor and the surrounds look great and we even have a well-filmed car chase.

It’s not without it’s charms but file it under Tales of the Expected. Still, watch it for Annis and her cheek bones… also her range… which did actually have me fooled for a few minutes.

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